Memories, you say? Well, I have plenty. But they are mixed up and out of focus.

Besides, they aren’t all for public viewing. Like the one of the verandah bordered by leafy trees where the teachers used to gossip. This was the scene of a childhood misdemeanor, and one of the few times my father punished me in public. Nothing traumatic, you understand, but quite embarrassing. I, of course, still hold to the view that I didn’t deserve it!

Memories are necessary. I have learned from mine. There’s the memory of the man who found I was home alone when my school broke up earlier than my parents’. He came twice and I gave him a cool drink each time. I told my parents about him, and they told me not to let him in. So I crouched and flattened myself under a window when he next came knocking, and prayed my limbs wouldn’t show if he peeked in. He went away and never came again when I was by myself. Did he see me hiding, and realise the game was up?

Ah, memories…

Perhaps we could begin with paper boats. Now there’s a memory that won’t jerk a tear or cause a litigation. It all began with an expatriate teacher who knew the art of origami. She gave me an instruction book with a little pack of papers. I wish I still had it. It showed one how to make a purse, a boat, a box, and several other things that I now can’t recall – all wonderful. My mother suggested that I not waste the precious coloured papers supplied, but use ordinary writing paper from my desk. You must understand that my favourite past-times were already to draw, write… and imagine.

The origami boat was the open kind, like a rowing boat. It was fun to make, but I preferred the paper sailing-ship that my mother taught me to fold, a child’s trick, the kind that could also be modified into a hat. I used to make both types of boats. When the rains came, fitfully but finally in the dry sub-Saharan climate, it caused the sandy lane in front of our house to run with hundreds of tiny streams. When the rainbow appeared, signalling the end of a down-pour, I would run outside and sail my boats.

I had read Rabindranath Tagore’sPaper Boats‘, and it fired my imagination. He was from India, which was close enough to home for me. The poem appeared in a book of literature from around the globe, suitable for children. It was meant to be used for an English syllabus somewhere – but for me, it was a book of stories to find pleasure in. In the poem, Tagore captures dreams, especially the kind that a wannabe writer has, in his evocative description of paper boats, filled with flowers, floating far away.

My boats never went far, which disappointed me. If they were sound enough to float, there was the inevitable sand-bank, or if they encountered no obstacle, they would themselves soak up the tiny medium that carried them, and sink. But perhaps Tagore had a real stream filled with currents to float his imaginations in.

I recently encountered paper boats again. Adelaide’s River Torrens is home to a visual arts display called ‘Talking Our Way Home’ by Shaun Kirby. Several glass forms have been erected along the river, representing paper boats made of letters written by South Australian migrants.

The sense of using paper – so fragile and yet versatile – to send a part of oneself floating along somewhere, anywhere, seeking something, perhaps never to land – well, something of that resonates with me. Memories and imagination, floating together somewhere forever.

Note: The ‘paper boat’ in this website’s header is from ‘Talking Our Way Home’ above.

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